By MIKE READLING, Times Staff Writer
Adrian Bush hopes to lift Tampa back to prominence as he succeeds his late mentor.
TAMPA - Adrian Bush knows what soccer means to the University of Tampa.
He grew up not far from campus watching the Spartans play. He graduated from Hillsborough High, then was a two-time All-American and captained UT to a Division II national championship at Pepin/Rood in 1994. He recites the names of former Spartan coaches with awe.
Bush's dream came true Thursday when UT athletic director Larry Marfise named him men's soccer coach. Former coach Tom Fitzgerald died in a traffic accident Dec. 4.
"Being from the area, growing up in Tampa my whole life, this is what I've always wanted," Bush, 32, said. "I was born and raised here and it's always been about the Buccaneers, the Rowdies, UT soccer and USF."
Though Fitzgerald was a mentor to Bush, a person he referred to as "a father figure," Bush said people shouldn't expect him to be a clone of his former coach.
"I'd chop off my hand to bring Fitzie back here, and I know he's probably proud looking down at this, smiling," Bush said. "But I'm not Tom Fitzgerald. I don't claim to be. There's only one Tom Fitzgerald. I feel honored to take over the program. He's still here. He's still with me every single day. But now it's time to get to work."
Bush said Maurice Loregnard will remain on staff as an assistant, and he hopes to add a goalkeeping adviser and another paid assistant.
"I think what we have to do is continue on with the goals and visions that we set forth coming in here last year," said Bush, who joined Fitzgerald's staff as an assistant in January 2004. "I don't think there's going to be a lot of change. We need to continue on the same visions and goal that we had and work on getting the program back to national prominence."
He also hopes to keep working with the Hillsborough County United, the soccer club for which he has been executive director/director of coaching the past four years. Its board of directors must decide whether he can stay with the club he has nurtured since its inception.
Bush plans to keep his eyes on prospective recruits and rebuild a team that finished 6-9-1 last year into the kind of squad he grew up watching. And plant his name firmly among the coaches he holds in such regard.
"Jay Miller, Tom Fitzgerald, Keith Fulkthose are some pretty elite names," Bush said. "This is my dream come true."